Change can be scary. But for the shameless Gallagher clan, it should be as welcomed as a recently poached Bald Eagle on Thanksgiving. So why does it feel like everyone is holding their breath and waiting for the Quaalude stuffed shoe to drop? In the Season 4 premiere of the American Shameless, “Simple Pleasures,” the writers did a remarkable thing that departs from its British progenitor in an even bigger way: the family is moving on up. As Fiona herself says, the poverty line is in sight, and for an Irish brood mothered by one hellbent sister on the Chicago Southside, that is equivalent to hitting the jackpot. Health insurance here they come! Indeed, after a series of revelations during the Season 3 finale—coupled with the still insidiously ambiguous fate of Jimmy—much of the Season 4 premiere felt like a soft-reboot (or “Repilot” as Community has recently coined) about where everyone’s life is now. Each Gallagher is felt in this show, even the missing ones. For a show based around the unceremonious comings-and-goings of the generationally impoverished, it could almost be mistaken for sentimental these days. As the true head of the family, Fiona’s new success in her temp job at World Wide Cup is the root of much of the abounding joy, especially since she’s been promoted to a permanent position. Of course, dating the boss cannot hurt that relative change in fortune, but one of the few advantages Fiona has (as personified by the effervescent Emmy Rossum) is the ability to date up, so good on her. In fact, her entire plot during the premiere seems to be going a little too good, as her biggest personal dilemma is deciding when to consummate her relationship with an actual middleclass “gentleman,” Mike, a boss so sweetly suffocating to her needs that he eventually volunteers cunnlingus during a post-coital snuggle. Despite going out for several months, Fiona and friends are miffed that he is initially satisfied with only a few handjobs. “Maybe the middleclass don’t fuck right away,” a contemplative Kev muses. One could suspect that this is the set-up for classic Shameless role reversals when the “nice guy” is revealed to be a narcissistic douchebag. However, this isn’t a Judd Apatow comedy; I sincerely believe that when Mike is just that sensitive and caring. And it is going to drive Fiona INSANE. After all, a loving relationship with the employer who is raising her out of poverty is not only forbidden from the series bible of a show like Shameless; it’s blasphemy. However, one fellow not adjusting so well to a seemingly middleclass lifestyle is Lip. In a bold departure from the UK Shameless, John Wells and Paul Abbot have decided to follow one of the leaving Gallaghers to their life outside of the neighborhood (we’ll have to wait a few weeks for the return of an enlisted Ian). Sadly though, it is only a matter of time before Lip returns to the South Side. Sure, he’s in college—is it MIT? Mandy got him into that school, but it somewhat looks like the University of Chicago on the show—but he is completely floundering. His roommate and girlfriend are making the least desirable noises in the room at night while his complete BS-winging through papers and exams is not cutting it in a place not looking to more than churn out diplomas. Lip is miserable, and by extension these scenes aren’t a whole lot of fun to watch either. In contrast, Kev and V’s ever-expanding baby drama continues to be a cracked bundle of joy. Especially now that V has somehow miraculously gotten pregnant in spite of being told that it was a biological impossibility last season. It feels a little bit sitcommy that just when they gave up on having a kid, they’re now having two alongside Veronica’s mother’s incoming baby, but hey, the owner of the bar also keeled over this week. So, perhaps with a bar up for grabs, Kevin will be coming into some new money? However not all changes are fun. As the show makes painfully obvious, adorable Debbie is now a teenager and she is “going through that phase.” It seems inevitable that the series would double back on the process of kids getting older, and at 13-year-old Debbie is obviously being posited as a young Fiona. She is already being pressured by trashy peers and girlfriends aiming to have their own dirt-poor litters by the time they hit legal drinking ages to not only pursue 16-year-old boys but to ride in cars with them and scope out if there are condoms in his wallet. The fact that she is a chip off the old Fiona block is repeatedly underscored by shots crosscutting between the two sisters getting dressed in the morning and fighting to share bathroom space. So, at the risk of sounding like a Sheila Jackson—who blessedly remains on the show as the unofficial Gallagher Maid due to her own loneliness—I really hope that Wells and Abbot are content with the points they’ve made this week about Debbie. Because the actress IS 14-years-old, and all the shots of her trying on clothes and walking around in her underwear is returning to some of the most skeevy areas the show toyed with in Season 3. Yes, teenagers have sexual urges, and it should be something a show as bluntly honest (or cynical) as Shameless should be able to explore without fear of cultural tut-tutting. But subjecting a minor to the male gaze like this is as uncomfortable as the negative stereotypes launched at Shameless that these sequences play into. Plus, on a slightly related note, Debbie is as annoying as a self-destructive Miklovich this season. But hey, she’s a teenager, and we all understand THAT necessary (evil) change. Also, if Debbie’s hormones are out of whack, then Carl’s are bending in the most unpredictable way toward empathy. I think every Shameless viewer has Carl pegged as becoming a serial killer or some other assorted sociopath down the road, but he is now playing in his own warped way into the saddest stage of every Gallagher child’s life: sympathy for a Frank. Because if they are all changing, the one constant universal truth in this universe is what a fuck-up and soul vampire Frank Gallagher remains. William H. Macy goes to some dark places in this premiere, because Frank knows that he is dying, but he is still content to enter crappy alcohol where his actual crap exits….at least, when he still isn’t dumb enough to take a sip of wine causing his throat to spastically shoot blood. Frank is dying, and it’s Carl’s turn to take the rite of passage that involves trying to save their father-in-name only while his older siblings shrug it off, even the previously duped Debs. That is not to say Carl doesn’t keep his usual tendencies of pissing off the top of the house when the bathroom is occupied or generally being a grotesque skinhead in waiting, but it still is genuinely painful to see him take care of his “little lost puppy” when Frank comes home, albeit under absurd circumstances. Police Officer Tony, the occasional Gallagher ally, finds Frank as one of the many bodies littered in a smack-house where he is far gone into heroin, yet Tony still thinks it is a favor to drop Frank off with his kids. Tony should be aware that Frank was disowned by the Gallaghers when he called child services on Fi and is nothing but woe and misery for the family. Still, lo and behold Frank is here! And instead of doing the smart thing of throwing him out, Fiona lets it slide when she requires Carl to take care of him. This is a man who has robbed Fi more times than I can count and who tried to send her siblings into foster care out of spite. Surely letting this self-centered bastard into the home, even if he is dying, will lead to nothing but heartache down the road. Fi may be busy with her latest well-to-do boy toy, but this is just asking to be blindsided by a walking-talking DUI made flesh. Overall, tonight marked a surprisingly optimistic return for everyone involved. Obviously, Lip is going to drop out of college, if only to return him to the meat of the Shameless action, so that plot thread sadly feels like a waste. But similar to Fiona’s newfound success, I kind of fear the curveball that’s coming. Things are going too well for the Gallaghers, which is something viewers should always wish to see but must always remain out of grasp. A show that sneers at a veiled caste system this much cannot actually see Fiona even lift her family into the working class; her relationship is on borrowed time and so is her job. Conversely, Frank may be dying, but that silver lining will take at least several more years to come to fruition, and he can do a lot of sabotaging in the meantime. It is good to see things shifting underneath their feet, but personally, it feels like a recoil that is still readjusting us back to status quo. The times they are a-changin’. But when they revert, it might be the biggest shame. Most Shameless Quotes of the Week “No, he’ll be back. Frank’s a cockroach. You can stomp on him, spray him, try to drown him, but he always comes crawling back out of the toilet bowl.” – Kev. “The Gallagher clan is flush. We’re creeping up on the poverty line. Haven’t quite dragged ourselves over it yet, but at least we can see it from here.” – Fiona. “Oh she going to have to have an abortion. I can’t have her nasty Kev mama baby staring up at me, not when I have my own Kev baby on my hip. I’ll just end up hating the mama baby and accidentally on purpose run over it on the driveway.” – V. 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